Motion: The United States should withdraw from the United Nations
For: Tim Hassan
Against: Daniel Mollenkamp
Tim Hassan was born and raised in a middle class home in Brooklyn. He started working young as his father instilled that in him but by the end of high school, was still unsure what he wanted to do. He joined the military (United States Marine Corps) after working a job in Manhattan into my early twenties and started to take college courses there. He did two enlistments and finished his degree after serving in Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Upon returning, he became a manager of a transportation company. He eventually started his own company, which is what he did the majority of his life. Later, he went back to school, changed degree programs from Human Services to Journalism and finally finished with a Bachelor in Communications from Nova Southeastern (NSU). He has two adult children and resides in Staten Island, New York. He is a registered Independent and doesn’t identify with either party. He would like to see us have more than just the two main parties that have little flexibility with their platforms
Daniel Thomas Mollenkamp is an independent journalist who has filed reports from three continents. He has focused on East Africa and North American markets in particular.
*As a side note, these opening statements were done in sequence, not parallel. By this I mean the Against side wrote his in response to the For, which is different than has been featured on this format in the past.
Let’s just start off with that I believe the United Nations to be a big waste of time and that it is paid for mostly by the United States taxpayers. Twenty two percent of the total UN budget we pay for. I think it has accomplished little in its history and actually makes things more difficult in some cases such as resolving conflicts. I’m not saying we should scrap the whole organization because certain arms of it can be useful such as The Economic and Social Council, which I believe fights world hunger amongst other things, but there are six arms to the UN, our country pays for the bulk of it and we get little benefit from it. I don’t even like how the Security Council is setup even though we hold a permanent seat. They certainly haven’t stopped wars and we seem to only abide by it when it is something beneficial to us nor do most of the other members of the Security Council abide by it.
Maybe I’m naïve but I think each country should form alliances that assist themselves with their own national security goals and interests. Why can’t the UN be in another country that pays the lion’s share of the costs?
Yes, I am a protectionist when it comes to US foreign policy. I don’t want us acting as the world’s policeman and I don’t want our kids being sent to fight and die especially under the banner of some international organization that really doesn’t serve much benefit to us. I don’t even want our kids being sent around the world under our own flag unless we have no other choice. Since I served in a combat unit and wasn’t happy about going to a foreign country , I know firsthand about war and I don’t want our country involved in one unless we are attacked.
Let’s worry about ourselves for a change and stop spending billions to prosecute unwinnable wars, we badly need our infrastructure modernized. I was not happy about one military action this country has undertaken in my lifetime with the exception of Afghanistan after 9/11 but even that I wanted handled more surgically and not this nation building nonsense that is being forced on a totally different culture.
That being said, I am for having a strong military to defend the homeland, an up to date and modern nuclear arsenal (because that’s the age we live in) and providing the money for the DOD to make that happen. I don’t think we have been invaded since the War of 1812 and I don’t see that ever happening as long as we maintain a strong military and don’t fall into the trap of one-sided disarmament agreements.
We need to be smarter than those who wish us harm and hate our way of life.
Thanks, Danielle Solinski, for inviting me to do this debate as well as for agreeing to moderate.
I will be as brief as I can, even though I feel like there's a lot of confusion already on display here.
If I can say this for myself: I have been a relatively harsh and unshy critic of the United Nations in my very short career. And as you probably know, Tim, I've published essays cataloging, as recently as last month, the areas in which the UN, and the Human Rights Council, in particular, has miserably failed to live up to its ideals, as well as the places where it may be incapable of fulfilling those ideals structurally.
But I'm actually shocked that you didn't want to rephrase your opening defense for this motion from the initial comments you made to me beforehand.
The motion before us is a particularly aggressive one, though it is by no means an entirely unpopular one, particularly on the right. Ever since Nikki Haley rose up to defend Trump's comments that the US gets a raw deal from the UN, I have heard similar criticisms thrown around across the political spectrum. But you'll forgive me if I say I didn't hear a single assertion you made that would validate the position you're presumably defending, which is why I say I'm surprised you didn't want to refocus your opening statement.
To deal with some of the problems with your statement, then.
So far as I can tell, you make two charges against the UN.
First and certainly foremost since you repeat the charge: the US disproportionately pays into the UN and receives too little benefit for what it is paying. Part of the funding we provide to the UN is, in fact, voluntary, and, therefore, it cannot really support your desire to withdraw from the UN. It would merely be a question of refocusing aid to sections of the UN we think are working well or drawing back from offering voluntary aid. (The Council for Foreign Relations says that we spent about $10 billion in 2016. Of that, only $4 billion was assessed. $6 billion was voluntary. For context: the US spends about $50 billion on foreign aid; most of which goes to advancing our foreign policy objectives, I'd point out. And the CFR itself points out that this is only roughly analogous to what we spend on the Coast Guard!)
Lets hone in on peacekeeping, one of the more contentious areas. Haley said as far back as March that the US wouldn't be paying for more than a quarter of the UN peacekeeping budget for similar reasons to the ones you intone. (We were then paying something like 28% according to some estimates I've seen, with China coming in a little more than 10%.) However, even a momentary glance would've told you that the administration's logic really had more to do with "feeling disrespected", as Haley had previously warned in December of last year, then with ineffectiveness. Thus, their desire to withdraw from the HRC was probably more about the HRC viewing our detentions of immigrants as an abuse and the objections over our validating of Israeli ownership of Jerusalem and things of that nature than about the financial balance sheet. Whatever your view on these things, it'd be strange to say they're motivated by a moral panic over international bank accounts!
The charge of ineffectiveness really starts to look like a post hoc rationalization once you look at the declining figures on things like poverty, it may be worth noting. And actually doesn't most of US assistance funding have more to do with repairing the damage from the wars you yourself say you dislike than objective goals for development or peacekeeping? Why else would places like Somalia be kept on an endless cycle of poverty, receiving little aid from the US, and places like Afghanistan and Israel and Egypt and Jordan get large subventions from the US? I once spoke to staffers for USAID who admitted that the job was hopeless for "do-gooders" because the program is nothing but the assistance arm of the Pentagon!
Second, you say that it has accomplished little and makes it harder to resolve conflicts. I would say this is half true. It is true that in matters of peacekeeping and nuclear nonproliferation, in particular, the UN has proven impotent. Though a staunch defender of the UN might point out that these are not technically functions of the UN as it was dreamed up in its charter, but have been duties it has picked up by accretion. Moreover, nations hardly do a better job on their own than through the UN. But the UN provides a forum for multilateral agreements at any rate. And I must not understand your charge that it makes conflict resolution harder, unless you mean it is harder for individual countries to throw their weight around. But if that's what you mean, why do you say you don't like the Security Council? Surely, that projects and protects the international privilege of countries like the US?
Neither of those criticisms even touches on why we shouldn't just negotiate how much we pay into the UN and reimagine the US role in it (assuming that I grant their veracity, which I don't) unless that's all you mean by "withdrawal", in which case I'd ask why you didn't just say that outright.
Now, I feel like I have to ask you to clarify your position. At one point you say the UN is a big waste of time paid for at the expense of the American taxpayer. You even acknowledged that the US is a permanent member of the Security Council, which I'd say is a hell of a benefit already. However, before you've even launched into your critique you'd seemingly contradicted yourself by saying that you don't want to "scrap the whole thing." Now, that seems like a dodge if the subject we're debating is whether or not the US should withdraw from the UN. You say you rather like the Economic and Social Council. OK. What precisely are you arguing that we should withdraw from then? The HRC? Clarifying this would open up space for a real argument, I think.
You also say (admirably) that you don't think the US should go off "policing the world." OK. Neither do I. Would withdrawing from the UN prevent us from embarking on international imbroglios? Not sure how.
Since you didn't answer these questions before the debate, I'll ask again:
You've said: "I was not happy about one military action this country has undertaken in my lifetime with the exception of Afghanistan after 9/11 but even that I wanted handled more surgically and not this nation building nonsense that is being forced on a totally different culture."
Well, Tim, some of the military actions were done against the wishes of many, many of the other UN members. I would say this intuition, such as it is, is an argument for pursuing international cooperation through bodies like the UN and not going it alone militarily. Perhaps you disagree. Do you?
By "protectionist" in terms of US foreign policy, do you mean to imply you support protectionist taxes on trade imports from China? Or do you mean something else entirely?
Judging on context clues, it seems to me as though you really mean to say that you have isolationist inclinations, though your advocacy for a robust DOD budget seems somewhat conspicuous if that's what you're in fact saying, particularly since you freely admit that the US is unlikely to face a serious military challenge anytime soon. And actually, it seems like a howling contradiction to argue in favor of withdrawing from the UN because its cost ineffective but also arguing in favor of bloating the already fat DOD budget further without the expectation of more military incursions.
Our debate is on whether we should withdraw from the UN--[more] specifically [emphasizing] the General Assembly and Security Council -- but if I have to make a choice between all or nothing then I would take getting out. I thought I was clear that while certain social aspects of the UN could be useful but need reorganization, that what we would be discussing primarily here was the General Assembly and the Security Council. If I wasn’t clear about that, I apologize.
It seems to me the mentioning of Nikki Haley and Trump means that you want this to be a political discussion. I think it really doesn’t matter which administration is in office -- the UN hasn’t proved beneficial to us since it’s inception during WW2. That covers every President from FDR to Trump so I’m not concerned with what Haley or Trump say about it. Haley is outgoing but that being said I think she did a decent job for someone who didn’t have much foreign policy experience and to me is one of the few bright spots of the current administration. I wish she were staying because I fear now that we will get a more hawkish UN Ambassador. The UN was formed with good intentions but it just hasn’t lived up to its billing and each of the Security Council members, particularly the USA, Russia and China, have used their positions to block many resolutions by the smaller, less powerful countries that they are not in political agreement with. For example, we’ve had to use our veto several times in the case of Israel. Whether some like it or not, Israel is our ally and certainly the best ally in the region. I’m not going to go into the Israel/ Palestinian issue here, but it’s just one example of the unfairness that I see in the UN, for there are many.
You mentioned the UNHRC. I think it clear that it can’t be taken seriously when you have so many members who make up some of biggest human rights violators in the world, so I was in favor of pulling out of it. I don’t think our reasoning had anything to do with our domestic problems because while this country may make mistakes it is certainly not in the same category as Cuba, China and North Korea. It’s laughable when despotic regimes have a say in matters of human rights on par with the US.
Another issue is that I do not think it’s proper for people like our own John Kerry to say that we must pass some kind of global test as if we need the international community’s approval and giving them the ability to veto us on our own national security decisions. I have a big problem with that. If other countries didn’t like us going into Afghanistan, I really don’t care. They weren’t attacked, we were--so I’ve explained myself clearly on that. I wish it had been handled differently but it wasn’t.
I sure as hell didn’t want us on a “nation building” quest nor did I want us going into Iraq which destabilized the whole region both of which happened under Republican administrations. If it were up to me, I’d pull out of Afghanistan immediately and cut our losses because we are never going to change them and they are fighting a war of attrition against us which will never end except badly for us.
Obviously no one forces us to pay--although there are dues for member states which vary and then we volunteer to pay way over and above that. There are 193 member states and 2 non-member observers so again, one of my reasons was, why are we paying 22% of the budget? We are on the expensive side of the sliding scale if that’s the case. So while we may be “volunteering” to absorb these costs, why can’t we un-volunteer? It’s still our tax money. This is not even including the costs of supposed peacekeeping missions in which our troops are used in the vast majority of. I understand your Coast Guard analogy, but having a strong CG is also important and necessary, for that money is well spent. I will tell you since you brought up our fat military budget that we don’t spend as much as some other countries, in terms of a share of GDP (although we do spend the most overall in terms of pure dollars, so I wouldn’t mind with the money we save on scrapping the UN if part of that money is put into our military. Just because we haven’t been invaded in 200 years doesn’t mean we should neglect our military with drastic budget cuts. Post WW1 we reduced our military to such an extent that when WW2 broke out we needed a few years to build it back up so we could go to Europe and Africa. I don’t want the country to go through that again and having a strong, modern military serves as a deterrent in many cases. I hope we never have to use our military but that is not realistic and I don’t see the UN preventing anything. They let Russia march into the Crimea and annex it. Where was the UN when we went and toppled Gadhafi? There are just many examples of its impotence or inability to stop countries, including ourselves.
No, I don’t want to send our troops on International Peacekeeping missions. We’ve tried that time and again and our guys come home in body. To what end? We’re deployed on almost every continent right now, our service members serving under an international flag that they did not swear allegiance to and many times under foreign commanders. Yes, I definitely disagree with that Daniel. People who join our military need to understand, which I never did, that as it stands now, even though when you were sworn in as a member of our armed forces, that they can and do loan you out to serve in an international force and sometimes under an international commander.
I think I may have misused the word protectionist although we can argue that at another time about the China tariffs.
I am not so much an isolationist on foreign policy but more of a unilateralist at which point by working with loyal allies you can make some decisions multilaterally as long as it serves all of us. The UN wants it all their way and their way is not always in our interests or the interests of our allies.
The $50 billion you mentioned in foreign aid I would also like to see reduced drastically. I’m tired of giving tax payer money to countries that sometimes don’t even like us. If we must give foreign aid, let’s give it to countries that actually like us. Since you brought foreign aid into this then it backs up my desire to see countries work out their own deals that further their own causes. If it’s a case of the have’s and have not’s then that is really not our concern. Our concern should always be what’s best for our country and not the globe first. As you can tell by now, I am certainly not a globalist and to me that is the agenda that the UN pushes forth.
The US is not responsible for the world’s problems. From your statement it seems that you believe our policies have caused a lot of the world’s problems. We have made mistakes-- I could go on and on about that subject, but I don’t see how that ties into this “for or against” argument. We also have done much good and I think the good far outweighs the mistakes we’ve made.
Don’t we have problems with homelessness, poverty, drug epidemics and starvation here? Isn’t our long-neglected infrastructure crumbling? I’ve read some of your articles and so I just think we differ on the role of this country around the world. If we have so many things that need to be fixed here, then why do you want to go around the world helping to fix countries, some of which that don’t even like us?
Although I want us to withdraw from the current structure of the UN, I really don’t see it ever happening unless they force us to because they need our money. If the US ever pulled out, the whole structure would come tumbling down
I hope I’ve answered your questions, I’ve tried to go paragraph by paragraph to answer your points except for the one or two that I didn’t see pertaining to it.
I hope I didn’t come off as contentious because that was not my intent. I became interested in participating because it seems in this country it is very difficult to have dialog with those we disagree with without getting angry. We need civil discourse. I always look forward to researching about points being made, just even in your opening statement, so bear with me if it takes a little longer because I like to get references and facts straight.
I sensed what I thought was a lot of deep misunderstandings about the core facts at issue in this debate, which is why I spent so much time in the muck, sorting out some of the details, in my first reply.
That may have been a slight error, as I appear to have given a misimpression. I was trying to imply, but will now just say, that I think, even from the perspective you claim to have adopted, that it would be a mistake to ditch the UN.
In that sense, I would say that the role of America in the world, though a big point of disagreement, is the least of our disagreements.
Now, I'm going to be very charitable and assume that your claim that I blame America for the world's problems is just a straw man fallacy and not an intentional slur. And we'll sidestep that landmine. I believe that being uncritical is not a form of patriotism but of simple-mindedness.
To revert to the point. Unless I believed that the US should shred the pretense of even caring about the state of the world around us, I would argue that operating through the UN still makes sense from a purely self-interested perspective. But actually, the US gains a lot of benefit from operating in this particular global structure. Even you, who calls himself a "unilateralist", immediately then says that what you really want is "multilateral" agreements.
And I agree with you, it seems unlikely that we will ditch the UN and adopt your platform, partly because I think I can now say what you're arguing for appears to be a return to the "unipolar" structure where world powers throw their weight around without conscience and everyone assumes that that is right. A great part of the American legacy is the bits that sought to enshrine justice as a universal concept, one not tied to power. Part of the reason we don't have that structure, I should also point out, is that no country is powerful enough to maintain it. In other words, you wouldn't want what you're asking for even if you could get it, and getting it would be to do a mighty injustice to the admirable bits of the American legacy. The advances of interconnectedness are hard to walk back at any rate and the wish to do so seems like a wish to reverse the clock. It's really a non-issue.
But even the case I've made so far doesn't begin to cover it. Most of the problems that we now face, as I tried to point out in an earlier debate, are probably not solvable within the context of national sovereignty because, at root, they are global. These are not just the problems of soft-hearted liberals, but of anyone that lives in a highly integrated world. (Climate change, access to markets, poverty, nonproliferation, human rights, and so on.)
To any of these issues, the impact of American foreign policy is certainly relevant. This is particularly true if our main complaint about the UN is that it slows the ability with which countries can act unilaterally. In fact, if I can say so, I completely anticipated your claim that the US pulled out of the HRC because of the presence of thugs. On that score, first, the administration itself has already publicly suggested that the decision had to do with payments and not wanting to be involved with a body that might criticize our own human rights record, something which you yourself suggest when you bang on about not wanting to be saddled with countries that “don’t like us”. Second, the administration doesn’t seem to have a problem with any number of dictators or thugs. You may not like them that much, but to suggest that the primary reason for us to pull out of the HRC was their presence is a nonstarter. If, on the other hand, you're arguing that it was the right move then I'd ask if you're willing to separate yourself from any one of a number of human rights abuses committed by the US or by US allies. I suspect not.
I would say one does not have to believe the US is bad to denounce any number of policies enacted by us or by our allies. It's not an all or nothing proposition. And if you understand anything about global politics it's that even a single country has a chorus of conflicting interests and parties. I don’t have to defend the structure of the HRC to say that I don’t think the administration really cares whether human rights abusers have a say in it. Rather, they seem annoyed that they cannot act unilaterally. You admit this for yourself freely.
In terms of just getting out of the Security Council, again, I think you're incoherent even in your own terms. You say you don't like the veto power granted to permanent members (you even mention the US by name), then you seemingly praise the decision by the US to use its veto power in favor of Israel. Where's the principle there? You say you're a "unilateralist" and that you don't care if other countries had a problem with the US going into Afghanistan. But you also say you want "multilateral" agreements, without clarifying what precisely you mean by this. Again, where's the principle here? You say that the UN was established on solid principles, but then go on to say that you don't want us to be subjected to "global tests" (again without defining what you mean or citing any example except a vague reference to John Kerry) and that you don't care what other countries think. Can you cite the principle you're defending here?
It seems an awful lot like you want to have everything both ways. You seem to want the pretense of multilateral agreements without the reality. You seem to want the UN without other countries.
Then to turn to the most obvious contradiction of all: the DoD budget. You failed to even address the ghost of my point. I never said or suggested we should not have a military or that we should let our military lapse. Indeed, you seemed to just get more aggressive in stating your desires, now saying you want to funnel the money from the international programs and into the DoD. If that's your position, then I say you're not a serious debating partner. As I have already pointed out, the DoD budget is widely known to be ineffective and bloated. Your comments about the $50 billion were equally off point. My point was that most of our assistance funding actually does go to American foreign policy ends already, something which is understood by some American civil servants.
I only accuse you of possibly being as confused about your own principles as I am about your comments. Debates are rarely the format to iron out confusion on either side. That said, I’ll see you in the concluding remarks!
I’m not confused, more like torn on the subject because I realize that the UN is needed in a social role but has performed miserably in other areas. I think I have laid out my reasons clearly on why I disagree with the foreign policy aspect of it and its failings. I understand that this type of issue is in your wheelhouse of expertise Daniel, but from what I have witnessed over my lifetime shows me that it hasn’t worked well to serve this country’s interests and I’m really not concerned with how it has benefitted the others. I consider myself a patriot and in a comical moment, last night I watched an old anti-war movie called “Paths of Glory” where the star of the movie, Kirk Douglas tells his villainous superior a quote from Samuel Johnson stating, “show me a patriot and I’ll show you a scoundrel” after the villain appealed to his patriotism to fight a losing battle. I’m certainly not a scoundrel.
I don’t agree with the terms of being a “nationalist” because I think that too many of those type of movements have gone awry throughout history. However I do understand how others can feel that way because I do think we should look out for ourselves first. I believe I have leveled criticism at my own country when they have acted improperly. You brought up the HRC again-- I stand by my opinion and if you were inferring to the US waterboarding of terror suspects then I think that is another debate but I will say this : Torture should never be acceptable but everybody has to be on board with that. It has happened to many US military personnel and intelligence agents but if we do it then it’s a problem. I don’t like double standards.
I am a unilateralist but obviously if you have allies then multilateralism is a fact of life. NATO is an example (which is a total other subject because I haven’t been happy with them either). I’ve stated in my opening remarks that I’m tired of us acting as the worlds policemen and don’t want our military involved in any more military ventures overseas unless we are attacked, at which point we have to defend ourselves. I wasn’t even for Trump lobbing missiles into Syria last year after a supposed gas attack on civilians. How is this our problem? The Obama administration backed the rebels there which obviously were bad actors too. We cannot be fighting extremists in Afghanistan and turn around and support the same extremists in Syria. Let’s pull out of both and mind our own business. I don’t think I’m incoherent about this at all.
The US is not well served by being a member of the UN because:
They overpay for it and we can use the money we throw away there for our own homeland
It’s not fair to our country or others (I can cite many cases but you obviously know already)
No matter what you say, the HRC is a joke run by the worst abusers. I’m glad we’re out
US military personnel serve under an international flag
The Security Council is ineffective and is not adhered to anyway at each member’s convenience
It has not stopped armed conflicts but is actually used by this country especially to cover for them
The UN promotes a globalist agenda which is not in our best interest
These different points are debatable in another format but to re-hash here wouldn’t be part of what we are discussing. I just don’t see the purpose of re-stating what I already have and as we both agree the US will not pull out of the UN anytime soon regardless. I just think it’s a shame that this country invests so many resources to prop up an impotent organization that accomplishes little that benefits our country.
I just want to say that I’ve enjoyed this back and forth Daniel, I’ve learned a lot and I would hope that we can agree to disagree without the name calling or being treated like “because it’s not my area of expertise that I must certainly be wrong”. On the contrary, many people agree with my position and have for many years that the UN has failed the US and cost us a lot of money and lives in doing so. I look forward to debating you again Daniel because I respect what you do. I suspect we have little to agree about in respect to where the US should be on foreign policy but that’s OK. I like discussing our role in geo-political events. Hopefully we can do it again soon.
If you care about poverty, or nonproliferation, or climate change, or the rights of stateless persons, or free markets with good trade practices, or even rule of law and peacekeeping, your best wager right now is on the United Nations.
This is true for ourselves and for others, as a matter of self-interest and compassion. The two are one in this particular case. As I have tried to argue (you can judge how successful I have been), even in terms of a purely selfish imperial logic, the US benefits from remaining engaged in the UN, though there is room for negotiation over the extent and terms of that engagement.
However, I fail to see why we should even adopt that logic in the first place. On most of these matters, solutions will have to be global by definition. Sidestep the crass opportunism and amoralism of that logic and you still have plenty of reasons to reject it. Take nonproliferation, for instance. Some of the biggest setbacks in nonproliferation in my memory have come from largely nationalist quarters. The Iran agreement, which by most accounts I've read would have at the very least slowed their attempt at thermonuclear weapons and which they were adhering to, was torn up because it was "unfair." Taking another angle, the "logic" promoted by these sorts of decision encourage proliferation. Ukraine now regrets giving it up, for instance, as they were left packaged with a bow for Russian imperialism. They won't make the same mistake again. This is not even to mention North Korea who has seen the Invasion of Iraq and knows that national sovereignty can only be guaranteed when it is backed by a nuclear arsenal. Why then should we assume that encouraging nationalism will lead to good outcomes?
Lifting the floor of quality of life and access to opportunity globally will probably repay dividends for us nationally, anyway. I feel and perhaps sound like a bleeding heart in saying that, but I am prepared to wear that bleeding heart on my sleeve in this case.
At worst, we might say that the UN provides a forum and a framework for operating in the world, one that benefits us mightily. If I had to have a primary criticism of it, it would be that it unduly privileges countries like the US at the sacrifice of its principles.
None of this is to say there aren't flaws with the UN or reasons to be skeptical of how it operates. It is absolutely not to blame America first for the world's problems. If the question before the house is should we remain an active participant in the UN or ditch it, then the answer is: remain.